Auto and Road User Journal
Auto and Road User Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
August 26, 1998
TranSafety, Inc.
(U.S. and Canada)
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

Public Rest Areas Do Not Provide Enough Spaces for Commercial Vehicles

The original intent of rest areas along the nation's highways "was to allow drivers to make brief stops to break up their journey." Providing a place for drivers to make longer stops or sleep is a more recent role for rest areas, although they generally do not accommodate these longer rest breaks--particularly for truckers. This means truckers find other places for long-term stops, often in unsafe areas such as on highway shoulders or on the entrance and exit ramps of freeways.

Congressional concern about trucker fatigue prompted a recent study of public rest areas and privately owned truck stops to determine if they met truckers' needs. Robert E. L. Davis discussed the study in "Commercial Driver Rest and Parking Requirements: Making Space for Safety" (Transportation Research Record 1595). The study showed that while public rest areas lack adequate parking space for trucks, privately owned truck stops would not necessarily make up for this lack because they "appear[ed] to serve different functions and meet different needs." Developing solutions to the shortage of truck parking spaces in rest areas and the overflow problem in privately owned truck stops will require the efforts of "both the public and private sectors."


Researchers conducted surveys of the following:

The study also included two "capacity utilization models" to identify factors affecting the use of truck parking space at public rest areas and privately owned truck stops and a "truck parking demand model" which served "to estimate the need for additional truck parking spaces at public rest areas."


According to the study, "some important distinctions between public rest areas and privately owned truck stops . . . may contribute significantly to truck drivers' decisions about where to stop and for how long."

State Survey

The 48-state survey involved 1,487 public rest areas and "formed the first national data base on public rest areas on Interstate highways." Most "reported truck parking areas as either full or overflowing onto the ramps at night. During the day, nearly half of the rest areas were full or overflowing." In contrast, parking spaces for cars were underused both day and night, which "means that design may be an important factor in space availability." The need to parallel park in the rest areas (which is difficult for large trucks) also discouraged their use.

I-81 Rest Area/Privately Owned Truck Stop Survey

Only 20 percent of the roughly 576 truck spaces in the seven sites were in public rest areas, and few had much in the way of legal night parking for trucks. Truck parking space was also reduced by poor design (diagonal, pull-through spaces are preferable to parallel or diagonal parking spaces that do not allow pull through) and by cars and recreational vehicles parking in designated truck spaces.

Truck Driver and Executive Surveys

More than 90 percent of the truckers "believed that a parking shortage existed," and over half felt this problem was worse in the Northeast. They preferred public rest areas for short-term parking of less than two hours; but for long-term parking, 68 percent preferred privately owned truck stops. Fifteen percent indicated they preferred resting or sleeping at public rest areas; however, lack of security and safety in these areas prompted the others to choose privately owned truck stops. Over half (54 percent) gave public rest areas a fair-to-poor grade. Although most truckers indicated the need for more parking spaces at both public and private facilities, "few . . . were willing to pay for improvements in truck parking facilities through higher diesel fuel taxes or new highway user fees." The executives' responses echoed those of the truckers, including the unwillingness to pay for improvements. Most rated the privately owned truck stops as good to excellent.

Privately Owned Truck Stop Operator Surveys

In the first of two separate surveys, nearly 7 in 10 operators said they did not believe there was a shortage of parking at public rest areas. However, those in the Northeast confirmed the shortage indicated by truckers and executives. More than 40 percent would like to expand their parking space, but land and money shortages often prevent it.

The second survey involved members of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO). The truck stops in this survey were classified as large, medium, or small--depending on their parking capacity. Most operators (84 percent) said their truck stops were full or overflowing at night, particularly at the small facilities. Overflow was viewed as more of a problem in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Roughly 32 percent of the operators planned expansion in the next three years, which would increase the nationwide parking spaces at privately owned truck stops "by 15 percent from the current 185,000 spaces to more than 213,000."

Capacity Utilization Models

For the first model, past research and the current study showed that demand-and-supply factors--such as distance from the previous rest area, adequate lighting, and food and repair facilities--all increased truckers' use of parking space at public rest areas. The second model showed that the ability to enter and exit easily, accommodations for oversized vehicles, and security features all increased use at privately owned truck stops.

Truck Parking Demand Model

Findings from the first capacity utilization model were used to estimate the need for more parking spaces at public rest areas. Davis emphasized "that the truck parking demand model and its results did not take into account the availability or usage of parking spaces at privately owned truck stops." To create the truck parking demand model, the researchers had hoped "to merge the data collected on privately owned truck stops with the existing data base of public rest areas." This proved impossible because the locations of the public rest areas and the privately owned truck stops differed too much geographically, and the sample size for the public rest areas was nearly twice as large as that of privately owned truck stops. However, "observations along the I-81 corridor strongly suggested that privately owned truck stops may offer significantly more parking than public rest areas nationwide."

The truck parking demand model revealed a current nationwide shortage of about 28,400 truck parking spaces (about 21 spaces per rest area) at public rest areas along Interstate highways. In five years, the shortage is projected to increase by 30 percent (36,000 spaces). In ten years, the projected shortage will be 40 percent above the current shortage (39,000 spaces).


Results compelled the researchers to conclude that parking at privately owned truck stops and at public rest areas serve distinctly different needs. Privately owned truck stops typically have showers and facilities for food and overnight rest, whereas public rest areas satisfy short-term needs--such as napping or using a telephone. In addition, ease of access and safety/security influence a trucker's choice of places to stop, and privately owned truck stops are more accommodating in these areas. However, the fact that 84 percent of privately owned truck stops indicated their facilities were full or overflowing at night "implied that most locations would not have the needed capacity to absorb the projected need at public rest areas."

The researchers also concluded that because tired truckers need available, safe, off-road parking space, "both the public and private sectors" must be involved in solving shortage and overflow problems. They offered the following recommendations:

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.

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